First Grade is often compared to as a paradise, a happy time full of those comforting surroundings created by their teacher and parents in order to hold them within a protected environment from which to begin their great journey toward adulthood. The task of the First Grade teacher is to help the children make the transition from play to work in an imaginative and artistic way.
The children initially learn by imitating the teacher. It is from this womb-like environment that the very first introductions to the alphabet and numbers can imaginatively be presented to the child’s picture oriented consciousness, laying the groundwork for the abstract intelligence that will develop over time.
The Waldorf curriculum endeavours to nurture the educational experience of children, to foster a love of learning, and the self-worth that comes from success in one’s individual achievement.
In this year the children are led to their first experiences of forms, sounds, and sequencing of letters and numerals by using pictures, rhymes, and stories. These are recognized and memorized through lots of practice involving movement, verses, drawing, and writing. In this year the children learn reverential respect for their classroom environment and toward their teacher that forms the basis for all of their subsequent learning experiences.
The presentation of Fairy Tales allows the underlying forces found within the archetypal imagery of these stories to awaken within the students—founding within them potential capacities for meeting our varied human experiences and challenges. One example of archetypal imagery can be seen in stories where a king is present representing to each individual their own spiritual essence—their own sovereign I, or ego. Nature stories give to the children an imaginative presentation for how nature works. The Nature Stories tend to be modern creations, while the Fairy Tales are traditional renderings of a once worldwide cultural phenomena.
Before there can be reading there must exist some form of visual representation, a picture that expresses what otherwise would be told by word of mouth. So we begin with the story, the Fairy Tales, and from these form pictures the more abstract letter forms can be seen to emerge from and lead to the first experiences the children have of writing and reading. In time, letter formation, pronunciation, and identification lead to the initial spelling of simple words, sight recognition, and phonetic family work, to further the student’s initial spelling and reading abilities.
An introduction to numerals, beginning with Roman numerals (in that they are more intuitively obvious: I, II, III, IIII, V, etc.) and comparing them with our modern Arabic numerals forms the basis of leading into a qualitative and imaginative presentation of the four processes.